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Wuthering Heights

by Emily Brontë

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What is the significance of this passage in Wuthering Heights?

The ledge, where I placed my candle, had a few mildewed books piled up in one corner; and it was covered with writing scratched on the paint. This writing, however, was nothing but a name repeated in all kinds of characters, large and small—Catherine Earnshaw, here and there varied to Catherine Heathcliff, and then again to Catherine Linton. In vapid listlessness I leant my head against the window, and continued spelling over Catherine Earnshaw—Heathcliff—Linton, till my eyes closed; but they had not rested five minutes when a glare of white letters started from the dark, as vivid as spectres—the air swarmed with Catherines; and rousing myself to dispel the obtrusive name, I discovered my candle wick reclining on one of the antique volumes, and perfum-ing the place with an odour of roasted calf-skin.

Expert Answers

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This quote comes from Chapter Three of this incredible novel and comes just before the strange dream that Lockwood has as he falls asleep in Wuthering Heights, having been forced to stay the night there thanks to the severity of the storm that gusts outside. What is key to note is the way that the confusion to do with naming is introduced in this quote. Note the way in which three different last names are given for Catherine which signify the tremendous confusion that both Lockwood has and we have as readers as we try to map out the confusing intertwining history of the Earnshaws and Lintons and how Heathcliff becomes involved in this baffling combination of family lines. As this quote comes at the beginning of the novel, we as yet do not know the full story behind the two families but the names points towards a curious intermingling of family lines and foreshadows the way that Catherine Earnshaw in a sense bears all three names during the course of the novel. Even though she never officially becomes Catherine Heathcliff, this is a name her daughter will bear, and it is a name that she bears in every sense except legally, as it forshadows the incredibly close and profound relationship she has with Heathcliff.

The significance of this quote therefore lies in the way that it places Lockwood as an outsider looking into this family situation and trying to make sense of it. This is a narrative device that helps us realise that we are in exactly the same boat. This passage leaves us standing alongside Lockwood, tracing out the different names that have been written again and again and trying to make sense of them and the story that lies behind them.

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